By Brendan Hinkle ’16
This August students couldn’t log in to Facebook without seeing videos of someone dumping ice water on their head.
The most recent online activism campaign was the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.”
According to alsa.org, the challenge involves people dousing themselves in buckets of ice water on video, posting the video to their social media, and then challenging others to do the same in an effort to raise awareness for ALS.
“It impacted me because before I did it I wasn’t very cold but after I did it I was very cold,” said Sebastian Espinosa ’16. “It really gave me a good feeling about what I was doing and it made me feel like I was helping out something and part of a great cause.”
The #IceBucketChallenge became the newest example of “hashtag activism,” a growing line of social media-based movements.
Over the last few years social media feeds have been peppered with hashtags such as #Kony2012, #BringBackOurGirls and, after the shooting of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo., #IfTheyGunnedMeDown.
Participants in the Arab Spring and other international protests such as those in Hong Kong have made use of Twitter and other social media outlets to spread their messages and plans.
Proponents of these online topics say hashtag social subjects help spread awareness to those who otherwise would be uninformed.
Opponents say it creates superficial participation at best without any real outcomes.
“Hashtag activism, sometimes derisively called “slacktivism,” has become de rigueur as more people use social networks to spread memes, gather signatures and raise awareness of important issues,” wrote Fannie Cohen in an article for PBS.org’s MediaShift. “But the practice has also come under scrutiny because it might take the place of more real-world action; most often, hashtag activism doesn’t lead to protests in the street.”
Students said the use of social media to promote causes such as ALS awareness is beneficial.
“I think that a lot of people use social media nowadays, especially teenagers, and I think it is a great way to get to them and let them know about the cause it supports,” said Arjun Sharma ’18.
Sean Scola ’16 pointed to Kony 2012 as a popular online campaign.
“Kony 2012 raised a lot of awareness,” Scola said. “A lot of people supported it but I don’t think anybody really did anything about it. It kind of died off pretty quickly.”
Other students said awareness in general is a positive thing.
“I think just getting awareness out there is important and getting people to know about something can help action be taken,” said Ben Gburek ’16.
Will Olesiewicz ’16 agreed.
“I think activism promotes a widespread awareness of the cause,” Olesiewicz said. “I think any widespread awareness whether good or bad can be helpful to the cause.”
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is a disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal chord. It is commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, named after the New York Yankees baseball player who died of the disease in 1941.
Caden Keller ’16 said he hadn’t heard of ALS before the challenge and at first didn’t know that people dumping ice on their heads were supporting ALS.
“I thought that it was a little strange how the whole thing just kind of started,” Keller said. “It just suddenly became popular and then just suddenly died away.”
Someone nominated can choose to do the challenge, donate to the ALS foundation or both.
“I didn’t like being forced to have to do it or be plagued by other people’s comments that I didn’t do it, but I did it anyway,” Keller said.
Most students said they liked helping ALS foundation along with their own reasons.
“I did it because I wanted to raise awareness for ALS, and to dump ice water on my head because it is hot in Arizona,” said Scott Harding ’16.
The challenge raised over $100 million and the ALS foundation said they are already putting $21.7 million towards researching a cure.